My Experiences Learning Hebrew

Posted on January 28, 2009 @ 2:21 am
by Neal Walters

I first had interest in learning Hebrew in about 1990 when planning to go to Israel. Due to the Desert Storm and the Gulf War, the trip was postponed (I finally made it in 1996). So in the late 1980s, how does one go about learning Hebrew in the middle of Oklahoma?

Via a language catalog (there was no internet then), I discovered the FSI courses. I had used FSI for Brazilian Portuguese, and thus ordered it for Hebrew. At least Portuguese used the same alphabet as English, but Hebrew required learning 22 new characters, and reading at first was very slow.

Back then, the FSI course included a large book and about 24 cassette tapes (today, you can find the book in PDF and the tapes are often on MP3 files). The course was designed for instructor-lead classroom use, and was definitely not designed for home-study. To this day, I have never finished that course.

Eventually, on a business trip, I visited one of the Borders book stores, which were all huge and new at the time. I found a “reader”, a book that teaches the alphabet, and had lots of practice exercises, where the student tries to read pages and pages of syllables and words.

I started going to synagogue, where I learned some of the Hebrew prayers. As a musical person, I really got into some of the melodies, and would often go home and practice the tunes and words from some of my favorites. The weekly repetition added to the learning experience.

Mansoor’s book “Biblical Hebrew: Step by Step” was a good introduction to the Hebrew of the scriptures. Later, a group of us studied Weingreen’s “Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew”, which took us about two years doing one or two lessons per week.

For Modern Hebrew, I remember using “Hugo Language Course: Hebrew in Three Months” and also Eliezar Tirkel’s “Every Hebrew”. Both came with a book and 3 or 4 cassettes. I like the Hugo course slightly better.

Eventually, in 2005, I took two semesters of “online” modern Hebrew from college in Boston. We used the “Hebrew From Scratch” textbook, and met online with our professor once per week. In 2008, via the same school, I took “Introduction to Talmud” and began learning my first Aramaic.

I still feel that I have just scraped the surface of learning the beautiful Hebrew language. By creating courses and teaching classes for others, I have continue to learn more each and every day.

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